Tag: Horror

Us review

Director: Jordan Peele

Writer: Jordan Peele

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker

Release date: March 22, 2019

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Well that was something.

Us is the second film from director Jordan Peele. The premise is a family of four goes on vacation, only to have their home invaded by a family of doppelgangers. There is a lot more to it than that, but Us is a film that is best viewed with as little information as possible going in. The description of the premise hides so much of what actually happens in the film, and that Us is easily one of the most creative, disturbing and memorable horror films in recent years. I should fully disclose that I have not seen all of Get Out, so I can only compare the two so much.

Us is a film with a lot of layers, symbolism, and subtext underneath its surface details. Looking back on the film, it becomes more apparent on what was foreshadowed and how carefully constructed everything was to make every plot point and twist work in the long run. It’s a film that I will probably watch sometime again in the future, just so that I can see what details I missed on the first watch. It’s a film with things to say about society, much like Get Out did. Us handles the issue of class oppression, using the doppelgangers who live underground as metaphors for the lower classes who live deprived of things those above them have, and the doppelgangers eventually rise above to take what they want.

The cast members give outstanding performances, having to play two roles at once. Lupita Nyong’o plays the role of protective and frightened mother, as well as murderous and envious psycho. Despite both characters usually being on screen at the same time, Nyong’o disappears into both, with tense and memorable interactions. The only performance I found to be a weak link was Winston Duke’s. He does a great job as the goofy dad, but the character himself could be somewhat annoying. The kids all do a good job as well.

Us’s tone is mixture of comedy and serious horror. It does a stupendous job of balancing both, though not completely as seen with Winston Duke’s character. When it’s not scaring you, it’s throwing in a moment of comedic relief to keep the audience from choking on its own terror. It’s both genuinely scary and funny. Sometimes the fact it’s funny makes the scares even worse.

For scares, Us eschews jump scares and clichés in favor of creativity and atmosphere. Nyong’o’s doppelganger character is extremely creepy, but has a tragic backstory that makes it easy to see why she’s doing what she’s doing. That makes her actions even more scary. Much of the horror in Us comes from its uncomfortable atmosphere, aided by a very effective score.

While it can sometimes be too on the nose, Us is a remarkable horror film with brains. Every element works to form one of the most original movies of the year. Definitely worth a watch.

Score: 9/10

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Resident Evil 2 REmake review

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Game played on: PS4

Release date: January 25, 2019

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Resident Evil 2 is the latest game in Capcom’s long running franchise of survival horror games. This is a remake of the second game from the fifth generation of consoles. It cements the franchise’s return to its roots, after making a more action oriented focus starting with Resident Evil 4. Keep in mind that I have not played Resident Evil 7.

Resident Evil 2 retells the story of the Raccoon City outbreak. Players get to choose to play Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie cop or Claire Redfield, Chris Redfield’s sister. Completing one character’s story unlocks a “second run” playthrough that shows what the other character was doing at the time of the first playthrough. I played as Leon the first time, and then Claire.

Capcom really managed to outdo themselves here. Resident Evil 2 is a remake that manages to court modern gamers with its presentation and gameplay, and will appeal to old school fans of the series.

Of the three games I have played of the series, Resident Evil 2 probably has the story with the most effective emotional hook. In Claire’s story, she becomes the caretaker of a young girl named Sherry Birkin. As for Leon, he will eventually partner up with the series’ famous Ada Wong, and begin the Batman and Catwoman-esque relationship with her that continues in the chronologically later games. For whosever’s scenario you play first, there will be a side character named Marvin, a Raccoon City police lieutenant. There are genuinely emotional moments and you feel a true connection to the new characters. Leon is a naïve idealist while Claire seems to be the more down to earth and pragmatic of the two. There’s a noticeable lack of camp compared to previous entries. While there are outlandish elements, everything is taken quite seriously, with the outbreak being treated not only as a horrifying event but a tragic one that ruins a fair share of lives. Yet the story never becomes so serious it becomes unintentionally funny. It’s by far the most grounded Resident Evil, but it still knows it’s a Resident Evil game. It ties with 4 for best dialogue.

One rather glaring flaw is how the first and second runs aren’t well connected to the other. The idea is that while Leon is going through his campaign, Claire is going through hers. Finishing one unlocks the other. The problem arises from how neither meshes well with the other. Puzzles that are done in the first run have to be done again in the second, when ideally characters should have different challenges to handle. To be fair, some puzzles are mixed up in the second run to throw off players, but the larger problem is not solved. It’s because the team clearly put the most thought into the first character run while the second run was neglected. The second run is quicker to go through, and not just because a player will have advanced knowledge of which items are where.

Structurally, the game is very similar to the first game. It begins in one location that follows a Metroidvania style design philosophy, and then the game takes you to new locations that expand on Umbrella’s role in the plot. In place of Spencer Mansion this time is the Raccoon City Police Department. Like its predecessor, the RPD is an absolute labyrinth, though it doesn’t have any death traps. Players will need to solve puzzles to escape, and then will have to solve more puzzles once they do. The newly designed RPD is the star of the whole game.

Zombies are even tougher than before now. It’s better to just avoid them outright rather than wasting ammo on them. It can take multiple headshots to kill them, and that’s just for the normal ones. Enemies like the Lickers are even stronger, but can be avoided if you’re quiet. The boss battles could be better but they’re serviceable. Impressively, the scariest segment in the game is one where there are no zombies. It’s a segment where you play as Sherry Birkin hiding from someone.

A much touted new edition to the remake is Mr. X. This guy is an unstoppable monster, who will hound players wherever they are. The closest contemporary comparison is the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation. He can’t be killed, merely stalled for a few seconds. If you see him: run. Don’t try to pick a fight with him, because you will lose. Once he appears, he will not stop chasing you. Even if you outrun him and hide, he will still be searching for you. You’ll be hearing his footsteps on another floor, or on the same floor if you’re really daring or unlucky. It is best to find a good hiding spot or a save room, which he cannot enter. It becomes even more vital to avoiding combat when he shows up, even with other enemies. He can hear you running, firing a weapon, and even uses the groans of zombies to pinpoint your location. It encourages smart and deliberate, but also quick thinking and having a backup plan. He also has pretty frightening theme that plays when he sees you.

Resident Evil 2’s sound design is not only impressive from a technical perspective, but is also a useful tool for survival. Due to the over the shoulder perspective, the game compensates by using shadows and narrow hallways to hide the zombies, since fixed camera angles are now a thing of the past. By using sound, you’ll be able to have at least a good idea of where zombies will be, and if Mr. X is in the same area as you are.

The game looks great with excellent animation, realistic gore, and had a stable framerate my whole time playing it. A zombie outbreak has never looked better. The voice acting is pretty good as well. Kudos to Ada Wong’s voice actress Jolene Andersen, who helps her come across as more likable than I have previously found her. The weapons sound and feel good to use, and Leon and Claire have different ones that they’ll use.

Resident Evil 2 is a remake that other video game remakes should aspire to. It honors the legacy of its predecessors while also standing on its own as a great game. Anyone who is a fan of survival horror and excellent game design owes it to themselves to play this game.

Score: 9/10

 

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice review

Developer: Ninja Theory

Publisher: Ninja Theory

Game played on: PC

Release date: August 8, 2017

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In the gaming market, truly unique experiences are rare to come by. That’s why it’s all the more important to support games that offer them. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, is one such game.

I’ll be upfront and say that this is not for everyone. Hellblade is a game that will likely bore and alienate a lot of people. It is not something that is to be played for fun. It is not a power fantasy that will make the player feel like a badass. It is a disturbing, maddening, surreal and more often than not depressing experience that emotionally drains you.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice tells the story of a mentally disturbed Celtic woman named Senua. She is dealing with severe mental illness and emotional trauma in a time when such issues are poorly understood, if at all. She journeys off to a land where she hopes to conquer her “darkness”, and bring back her loved one from the clutches of Hela, ruler of the dead.

Don’t play this game for the gameplay, because it’s truly not all that impressive. Hellblade is best described as one-third walking simulator, one-third hack and slash game, and one-third puzzle game. While none of these three elements of gameplay are bad, they aren’t fleshed out enough to be particularly notable either. Combat is very simple. You have quick and heavy attacks, as well as a button to dodge and a block button. There’s no depth or experimentation to be found here, but fights have a very slow, brutal weight to them. It’s best to keep the game on the normal side of difficulty, because anything more or less makes combat either too tedious or too easy. As for puzzles, while there are a few cleverly designed ones, most of them are pretty average and at times more frustrating than engaging. Levels are linear with no real incentive to go off the path to your next objective except if you want to hear some retellings of Norse myth. The boss battles are at least noteworthy for their spectacle and creative gimmicks, like one who uses fire or forces you to rely on sound at various points to fight it.

The real stars of this game are its story and presentation. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a well written, excellently presented, and exceptionally well acted portrayal of a person dealing with psychosis. It handles very weighty subject matter not just including mental illness, but trauma, religious zealotry, and abuse. It’s character driven, about how Senua must face her own personal demons represented as actual demons. There’s never an answer given as to whether what Senua is seeing is real or just figments of her damaged mind. It makes for a very interesting dilemma for the player. You can’t rely on Senua’s perception of events. As her quest goes on, she constantly struggles with her “darkness”. It not only manifests as the enemies you must fight, but visions and voices of her past and the people close to her. It is equal parts a well written and engaging character study, as well as an effective work of psychological horror.

There is genuinely frightening and violent imagery on display in the game. Enemy designs and depictions of the Norse deities are demonic and warped. The designs for Hela and Hel’s guardian Garmr are the most memorable. This ties into Senua’s trauma at the hands of Viking raiders, and the setting of the game. It is steeped in Norse mythology and the culture of the time.

The word, dreaded perhaps by some, “cinematic” comes into mind when playing Hellblade. Senua is motion captured and voice acted superbly by Melina Juergens. It should be noted that this is the first time she has ever done either of these things. She wasn’t even meant to be the definitive choice to portray Senua, but she did such great work that they stuck with her. Every subtle and unsubtle expression on her face, and the movement of her eyes convey so much emotion without her saying a word. And when she does speak, boy does she manage to drip sorrow and rage, often at the same time with so much effectiveness. There are other characters who are also acted very well. The voice for Senua’s father is especially noteworthy, but I won’t get into specifics so as not to spoil his role. Cutscenes are expertly directed and animated, usually done as one long tracking shot by taking advantage of the over the shoulder perspective the game uses.

Hellblade wouldn’t manage to work as well as it does without its sound design. I cannot state enough that this game needs to be played with headphones. Senua’s hallucinations are not just visual, but auditory as well. She is plagued by voices in her head that both encourage and admonish her. Playing with headphones elevates a playthrough a great deal. It immerses you into Senua’s mind, and its a treat for the ears. The game is at times a full on assault on the senses, but not in a bad way. This is also a deliberate move to place the player in Senua’s shoes. You will feel the fear she feels during some of the more intense gameplay segments, most notably a segment where Senua must find her way around an area in pitch dark relying entirely on sound.

It’s a beautiful game, with some of the best atmosphere and photorealistic environments and characters a game can have this generation. There are inspired and striking uses of color and has some of the most frightening utilization of shadow for a game in recent memory. It also has a very well done soundtrack that evokes terror, sadness, and hope in equal measure.

I had a glitch free playthrough with Hellblade, but it is not a technically flawless title. The audio would cut for a split second when the game would transition to a cutscene sometimes. I also had a moment when an enemy boxed me into a corner during combat and I was unable to move out, forcing me to take heavy damage in order to trigger an animation that would get me out of it.

One point that should be made is about a supposed permadeath mechanic. The game states after the first combat encounter that if you lose too many times, your save will be deleted and the game will start all over again. Don’t panic, it’s not what you think. To go into further detail would be spoiling the plot and subtext, but just note that there’s no need to panic if you’re dying repeatedly. You change the difficulty at any time at the pause menu if combat is getting too much of a challenge.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a game that has its rough edges, but still manages to soar despite its imperfections. I finished it in six hours, and there are no alternate endings or bonus content. One might think this is a negative, but I can’t think of the game being any better with anything like that. It tells a well paced, emotionally powerful, and thought provoking story; and that’s enough. Ninja Theory took a true risk in making this game, and they should be applauded for doing so. There are definitely people who could give this game a chance and hate it, but I still ask that you give it one. I for one found myself hooked, warts and all. It’s a daring labor of love that will stick with you, regardless of how you feel about it.

Score: 8.5/10

 

Resident Evil 4 review

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Played on: PS4

Release date: January 11, 2005/ August 30, 2016 (PS4 remaster)

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(Meant to get this up by Halloween but better late than never)

There have been very few games as influential and acclaimed as Resident Evil 4. More than any other game in the franchise, this is the one that people look back on with the most fondness with maybe the first remake rivaling it. It changed not just the franchise, but the third person shooter genre. Uncharted, Gears of War, the rebooted Tomb Raider games, none of them would probably exist without this title. The cherry on top: not only is Resident Evil 4 influential, it still holds up all these years later.

Resident Evil 4 is a fairly good place for those unfamiliar with the series to enter. You just need the bare minimum knowledge of the series lore to understand what’s going on like I did. The plot completely stands on its own, outside of some returning characters from previous games. Leon S. Kennedy is sent to rescue the president’s daughter after she was kidnapped, last sighted somewhere in a Spanish speaking part of Europe (but not Spain itself). The mission doesn’t go as planned as he stumbles upon a spooky cult and a new kind of enemy called the Gonados.

Even by the standards of this series, the writing reaches new standards of campy stupidity. It’s all the better for it though. It never takes itself seriously, always having a subtle wink and a smile towards the player. Leon is the perfect American action hero saving the damsel in distress while spouting off one liners out of an 80s action movie. The villains are just as ridiculously fun, devouring the scenery with every line and appearance. The most memorable one is definitely Salazar, the right hand of the main villain Saddler. Salazar has a more immediate presence throughout the plot, the most memorable lines and scenes, and his appearance is so off and disturbing. He’s a twenty year old with a child’s body but an old man’s face. The insults him and Leon trade with each other are some of the greatest in video game history purely from their childishness and sincerity. It finely balances chest pounding scares with campy plot elements and outrageous action set-pieces.

Even after all these years, Resident Evil 4’s gameplay manages to be at a level other third person shooters and horror games have difficulty matching. Shooting requires you to stop and aim, rather than move and aim freely. This creates a tense game of cat and mouse where the player has to carefully choose their position, which will affect what weapon they may prefer to use in that instance. Shooting different enemy body parts will have different effects as well, like shooting legs to stall the enemy, or shooting them in the head to stun them and give them a swift roundhouse kick to knock them down, which will allow you to go in for a melee attack to preserve ammo. This system makes the game perfectly suited for both survival horror and intense action set-pieces. Going over the shoulder was a decision that was clearly not made lightly, and the game makes the most of its new perspective. Unfortunately, this game has the dreaded quick time events sprinkled throughout, and they’re very hit or miss. Some of them are fair, and you have enough time to see what buttons you need to press to survive, but others give you no margin to error, and failing will force you to start the whole scene over. When they happen during gameplay they’re fine, but they’re a hinderance during cutscenes. Especially since these cutscenes are energetically directed and fun to watch.

The boss fights are for the majority of the game fairly challenging and fun to play. Saddler’s boss fight is easily the best, especially for having an outrageous design and it being so satisfying to finally put him down. One of the later fights however is a miserable, drawn out chore. It happens near the end of the game, involving two “El Gigante” (giant monster) bosses. One El Gigante already takes quite a bit of ammo before their weak spot is revealed, and there are two of them in this case. You can take one out mercifully early via a trapdoor, but only one. The area where it takes place barely gives you enough ammo to deal with even one of them. I was amazed at having survived, so maybe that was the point. Regardless, it could’ve been done better. The rest of the Gonados are very well designed and threatening, with memorable body-horror designs that reminded me of the anime Parasyte: The Maxim, and even the weaker ones being able to take a good chunk of health off of you if you aren’t careful. Later ones will even be carrying firearms and wearing body armor. Certain ones will have grotesque, large parasites sprout from where their heads used to be once they’re shot off. The variety of enemy designs help make the game a fresh and fun experience even after over a decade.

Surprisingly, the escort mission aspect of the game is one of its most well executed concepts. Eventually you’ll find Ashley, and she’ll need your help to survive. She’s not nearly as much of a pain as you would expect. Her AI is fairly intelligent, if she loses health you can heal her, you can command her to hold back or find a hiding spot, and you can increase her health using the green-yellow herb combination. If the Gonados do capture her, you have more than enough time to save her from being carried off. She also proves to be useful at various story moments, so Leon isn’t just carrying the entire mission by himself.

Superb level design combined with the very well crafted combat are what help raise the game to greatness. Areas are often varied in layout, with multiple ways to approach enemies. The first area of the game is very open and allows the player to take advantage of its verticality and wide space to keep them alive and fend off enemies. Eventually you’ll make your way to a medieval castle that is an even more ridiculous version of Spencer Mansion, being a ludicrously designed deathtrap that constantly surprises you. This is where the game peaks I’d say, as while not bad, the later areas of the game don’t have the same level of imagination and care put into them.

Resident Evil 4 is still a very nice looking and smooth game, no doubt thanks to the HD remaster on the PS4 that I played. Facial animations still hold up, and the environments have a good level of detail. The voice acting is very well executed for the tone they were going for, with every character spouting off the most ridiculous of dialogue with complete sincerity while still being aware of the script’s absolute stupidity. Paul Mercier as Leon is a rightfully legendary voice performance for this exact reason. Saddler and Salazar’s voice actors are also the highlights, chewing up the scenery with psychotic joy with every letter.

After you beat the main story, there’s still plenty to do. There’s Mercenaries Mode (a mode that is just pure combat for points), and a game mode where you play as Ada Wong, one of the recurring characters. If only modern games would give you this much extra content without making them paid DLC or pre-order bonuses.

Resident Evil 4, even over a decade later, does things right that most games fail to do. It manages to balance hair raising scares with heart racing action. It never falls prey to grimness, despite its grim setting. It’s a campy horror-action game that rightfully earned its claim to greatness. Even after being imitated by the wave of third person shooters that followed in its footsteps, the game still is in the upper echelons of its genre.

Score: 8/10

Beyond the Black Rainbow review

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Writer: Panos Cosmatos

Cast: Michael Rodgers, Eva Allen, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry, Rondel Reynoldson

Release date: December 3, 2010

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Beyond the Black Rainbow is a flawed, yet interesting and very unique film. It was the debut of Panos Cosmatos, the director and writer of Mandy. A science fiction horror film, it is about a young woman with psychic abilities who is being kept captive at a secretive institute by a creepy doctor played by Michael Rodgers.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is the kind of film that doesn’t make your viewing experience easy. It’s a very deliberately paced, clinical film in the vein of Stanley Kubrick; with characters that don’t particularly come off as emotional or human, except for one. Its plot is very minimalistic, requiring viewers to slowly piece together what exactly is going on. A lot of people will come away from it thinking that it’s boring, but sticking with it is a rewarding experience.

The film’s aesthetics are its strongest attributes; thanks to its direction, cinematography, and score. As mentioned above, Cosmatos was clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick. His cold and calculating direction giving me flashbacks to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Every shot of this film is masterfully framed and beautiful to look at, yet also gives a haunting vibe. There are scenes and images in this film that will not leave your brain when you see them. The standout example being a flashback in the middle of the film that is surreal horror at its finest. The uncomfortable synthesizer soundtrack doesn’t exactly help either. Nothing comes across as quite human or natural in its neatness. The same can be said of the characters and their actors’ performances. Michael Rodgers as our antagonist is quite frightening throughout; first in an understated way, and then in a way that is the stuff of nightmares. Our protagonist named Lena is the sole sympathetic character in the whole film. She’s a captive in a cold, uncaring facility that she wants to escape. It would not surprise me if Cosmatos was inspired by Elfen Lied, nor would it surprise me if this film inspired the Duffer Brothers during the creation of Stranger Things.

Despite having great elements, Beyond the Black Rainbow is held back from being a great film. The plot is extremely bare bones, to the point of near non-existence. Its mostly just a series of events that happen, with the one flashback in the middle of the film to give events some more context. The third act is when things at last come together, and the film’s surreal horror kicks into high gear. Also, while beautiful, the film will linger on shots too long at times; coming across as pretentious.

It’s a flawed gem, and many will walk away from it feeling they had their time wasted. Regardless, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a nice throwback film that justifiably has a cult following. For all its faults, it was the arrival of a genuinely talented filmmaker with a unique style and vision. Anyone looking for a more unconventional horror experience should give it a shot.

Score: 7/10

Annihilation review

Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Published: February 2014

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Well isn’t this a surprise, I’m reviewing a book this time. Specifically, the first novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I first heard about this book when I saw the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation from Alex Garland. I liked what I saw and figured I would read the source material before I see the movie. I didn’t even know it was the first of a trilogy. I started reading it about two days before writing this review, and managed to finish it hours earlier today. It has been a long time since I’ve read something this engaging and well written.

Annihilation is just like a good Lovecraft story, if Lovecraft had managed to write a full book instead of just short stories. Its story is about an all female team consisting of a psychologist, surveyor, anthropologist, and our protagonist a biologist as they venture out into Area-X, an area of land which seems to defy the very laws of science. As the team investigates, things quickly fall apart, but that’s all I’ll say about the story without going into spoiler territory.

Like I said earlier, this has all the trappings of a good cosmic horror story written by H.P. Lovecraft. It involves a group of people dealing with an entity that their minds cannot fully make sense of, no matter what technology they have or investigative tools they use. Area-X is one of the most fascinating, realized locations I’ve witnessed in years. It’s strange, disturbing, and defies any attempts to make sense of it. It is as if it exists in a plane of reality outside of the rest of the Earth. The laws of nature as we know them are not followed in Area-X, with one of the books most memorable scenes being one where our protagonist witnesses some dolphins with a very peculiar trait their species should not have, and numerous ones that takes place in a “tower” that goes underground. Everything in Area-X simply should not be.

On the character side Annihilation doesn’t excel but it works. None of the characters are given names, not even our protagonist, and she’s the only one we’re ever given any insight into. She has a rather unconventional, and at times unsympathetic personality. She’s antisocial, wrapped up in her work, and just seems not to care about the people around her. The novel is entirely from a first person perspective, so we learn about her, and only her. The other characters’ pasts are unexplored. We also only have the protagonist’s knowledge of the area and its wildlife. This is a good way of adding to the fear of the unknown the book has. By the end, the protagonist doesn’t have all the answers, and neither do we.

Annihilation’s single greatest attribute is easily its atmosphere, which is thanks to VanderMeer’s excellent writing. He manages to bring to life the vast loneliness the protagonist feels during the plot, the sadness and isolation given off from the remnants of humanity found in Area-X, and the surrealism of its ecology. While it builds atmosphere, the novel still manages to have an excellent pace to it. Nothing feels padded on or unnecessary, and when I was finished I felt breathless and wanting more.

For all the good things I have to say, Annihilation is not for everybody. While it’s only 195 pages in total and I managed to read through it fairly quickly, it can be a tad confusing at times and the characters aren’t really the focus of the story. You also are left with unanswered questions by the end, which will no doubt leave at least one person feeling cheated. I personally did not mind this because the protagonist finished her own personal journey and since the story is framed as her recounting her experiences, it immerses us into her mindset and maintains the book’s Lovecraftian horror traits.

Annihilation is a great read and has left me feeling even more excited for Alex Garland’s film adaptation. I’m nervous and excited to see if he can make a movie out of such a surreal novel, but if he has to take some liberties to make it happen, then let him do so. It works both as a standalone work, and as the first of a trilogy. I’m eager to read the other two books of the series as soon as I can.

Score: 8/10

The Neon Demon review

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Mary Law, Nicolas Winding Refn, Polly Stenham

Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Christina Hendricks, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote, Keanu Reeves

Released: June 24, 2016

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The Neon Demon is a 2016 film from Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive. The story is about a young, innocent, aspiring model named Jessie, played by Elle Fanning, who becomes entangled in the narcissistic nature of the modeling industry in Los Angeles. Her youth and innocence is attractive to the executives and photographers of the industry, but also gets her unwanted attraction from rivals and predatory men. Sounds simple yes? Well this movie is anything but simple.

The Neon Demon is basically extremely stylish, visually amazing, artsy trash, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The movie is carried pretty much entirely by the strength of Refn’s filmmaking. Beautiful cinematography that makes great usage of contrasting colors like blue and purple, and artistic direction gives this film a unique style and flavor that immediately sets it apart. This is not a case of style over substance, but rather the style being the substance. I can’t remember ever seeing a film that looks like this, and it’s easily one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in recent memory.

The Neon Demon’s soundtrack is equally as mesmerizing and beautiful as its visuals. Its synth soundtrack gives the film a hypnotic, edgy atmosphere and is also one of the best I’ve heard in recent memory. The most identifiable track is “The Demon Dance” by Julian Winding, which is perfect for listening to while driving on the highway or in the city on a rainy night.

Okay enough putting it off, now for the plot, because pretty visuals and music can only help a movie so much. The plot and characters need to come first. It’s tricky to talk about them because the plot on the surface seems simple enough, but the way it’s told makes it anything but. It especially goes into some pretty weird and horrifying territory around the climax of the film, which even had me looking at the screen slack jawed in disbelief and disgust. A big negative for some will probably be the characters, because none of them are likable or sympathetic in the least. They’re either narcissists, perverts, ineffectual, or total sociopaths. The only characters who could be remotely considered sympathetic are either revealed to be vapid, monstrous, or barely in the film, and once things get too weird for them they decides to get out of dodge. Probably the best decision they have ever made. It keeps from getting unbearable by having an extremely twisted sense of humor. The movie knows how ridiculous it really is so it doesn’t go into faux-artsy pretentiousness.

Everyone does a good job with the characters they’re portraying, but special attention should be given to Keanu Reeves as the creepy landlord. He just oozes scumbag in every scene he’s in, and has a particularly terrifying scene late into the movie.

While it’s not a masterpiece or as good as Drive, The Neon Demon is a unique and memorable film. The plot and characters may leave much to be desired, but its direction, style, and atmosphere elevate it. If you have a taste for unconventional movies, I’d definitely recommend it, but be warned of what you are jumping into.

Score: 7/10